Adobe’s campaign against Apple misses the target

Nothing better demonstrates Adobe’s concern about being locked out of Apple’s mobile platform than a huge advertising campaign attempting, one assumes, to win public support and pressure Apple into yielding ground.

Still, if you are going to run a big PR campaign it helps to be right. But Adobe seems to be arguing that Flash support is essential to an open web, which is incorrect.

We believe that consumers should be able to freely access their favorite content and applications, regardless of what computer they have, what browser they like, or what device suits their needs. No company — no matter how big or how creative — should dictate what you can create, how you create it, or what you can experience on the web. … In the end, we believe the question is really this: Who controls the World Wide Web? And we believe the answer is: nobody — and everybody, but certainly not a single company.

says the open letter from Adobe founders Churck Geschke and John Warnock.

Very good, but this is not an argument in favour of Flash. Flash is not part of HTML, Flash is not a standard, and Flash is not open – the specification for the player is published, but what goes into that specification is controlled solely by Adobe, and its player implementation is not open source. Flash is a proprietary plug-in. Are Geschke and Warnock arguing that all browsers on all devices should allow all plug-ins to be installed – including Silverlight, Java, ActiveX, and anything else you can think of? Or are they arguing that Adobe Flash is a special case? It is certainly a special case for Adobe, but any company will argue in favour of its own stuff.

The full-page advertisement that I’ve seen in various newspapers is not much better. Adobe’s pitch is that Apple is:

taking away your freedom to choose what you create, how you create it, and what you experience on the web

This again is incorrect. Apple has an excellent mobile browser based on WebKit, as also used by Google, Adobe and others. You can do what you want on the Web, but if you use Flash it won’t render on Apple’s mobile devices. All that means is that Apple has chosen not to support Adobe’s plug-in. It is not an issue of freedom.

Personally I don’t like Apple’s approach. I’d prefer it to support the leading plug-ins (not only Flash); I don’t like the appification of the web -  dubbed the splinternet, or splintered web, by some. And I particularly object to Apple’s clause 3.3.1 in its new developer agreement, which blocks apps that are created with cross-platform tools, no matter how well they perform or how good they look. That, it seems to me, is anti-competitive in spirit.

I think Adobe should make more of clause 3.3.1, rather than indulging in special pleading for its plug-in. And if I were Adobe, I wouldn’t be whinging about Flash being blocked. Rather, I’d be highlighting all the great things Flash can do, and all the content you will miss without it. My full-page ad would say, “Mr Jobs, your iPhone is broken”, and extol the merits of Android and other devices that will run Flash.

I’d also be working on the technical arguments, that Flash is unstable, insecure and resource-hungry. Is it Apple’s fault? Is it because of poorly coded SWFs, and if so what is Adobe doing about that? And how will Adobe improve Flash so that it behaves better in future, and not be perceived as the new Vista?

Maybe next time round?image

8 thoughts on “Adobe’s campaign against Apple misses the target”

  1. Tim,

    The problem with the “open web” is that it has come to become a mantra that means “only text” and has little to do with whether things are open or not.

    Many technologies that are ending up today in HTML 5 started as proprietary extensions, designed by a single company, with no intentions for them to become standards. The A in AJAX came from a proprietary MS extension, the modern “canvas” tag came from a proprietary Apple extension.

    When they became useful, other browsers adopted it;

    In Flash’s case, Adobe certainly controls what they do in their implementation, but that does not mean that third parties are prevented from implementing the spec. That nobody has done a comprehensive effort is an effect of Flash being “good enough” and available everywhere for free that has caused people to just not care about the problem.

    In the one space where Flash is not available (game consoles) an alternative Flash implementation has blossomed and is in use in pretty much every major video game published in the last 3 years, with some 600 games using it ( This is Flash used as in-game UI for the major block busters, not just the free games on web pages.

    That being said, on a *separate* note, you are following on Steve’s jobs about using Flash in the browser *in* a mobile device. This technically presents some major challenges like Apple would have to do work on their end to even support plugins in Safari on the iPhone.

    But the fight is *not* about Flash on the browser on iPhone. That was never supported, and that was never the discussion.

    The problem is that Adobe built a technology to run *standalone* apps that would run directly from the AppStore on the phone, and this was banned.

    The technology does not run on a browser and does not have a browser on it in any form or shape. What Adobe did was port the equivalent of Flex to the iPhone. And what Apple did was ban the platform from being used even for standalone apps.

  2. But the fight is *not* about Flash on the browser on iPhone. That was never supported, and that was never the discussion.

    Thanks for the comment.

    I’m not sure what context you mean when you say “that was never the discussion”. It is undoubtedly what Adobe refers to in the open letter mentioned in my post, and in the ad where it refers to “what you experience on the web”. Apps are not the web. I agree this is a most important distinction.

    The question of the Flash compiler for iPhone is a different one, where Adobe is on stronger ground, as I mentioned in the post.


  3. Third-party plugins were introduced in Netscape 2, ratified by Internet Explorer 3, and have been part of every HTML spec since, even the WhatWG’s “HTML5” proposals to the W3C.

    John Nack had a blogpost yesterday specifically about the uncertainty of creating applications for controlled environments. For refutations of false memes, see:


  4. @John sure, but what are you arguing exactly? That all browsers on every platform should allow users to install the plugins of their choice?


  5. “@John sure, but what are you arguing exactly?”

    ?? Are you talking about your “Flash is not part of HTML” line, yet how the HTML specs, whether past, present or future, all describe an extension mechanism which Apple’s newest proprietary devices fail to implement?


  6. Say I’m a Flash user (or a Flash developer) and I would like to purchase today a mobile device to run (or develop) my flash based content. Well as far as I know I can’t. All I can get is a pretty poor earlier version of the flash player. So all I’ve got today is Apple saying it doesn’t work and never will and Adobe saying “it will all be ok in the next version”. Until the thousands of small developers and tech savvy users can get hold of an up to date version on a device and see for themselves this is all just hot air and posturing from two drunks squaring up to each other outside the pub late on a Friday night.

  7. I believe that it is hot air too. If they can’t get the first version to work, they need to sit down somewhere. there are just too many competitors out there for people not to get their stuff right. I like Apple over Adobe anyway (company ethics I mean…and products).
    (content writing service),


  8. All the things that Mr.Steve Jobs issued was wrong. Seems the Apple guy has never used a PC. please visit and adobe’s letter for that matter. Performance, Security, Touch support, all goes to Flash Player.

    Apple will loose!

Comments are closed.